Galvestonians, it’s time for the Galveston Independent School District’s board of trustees to provide an equitable and cost-efficient education for our middle school students. Currently, that doesn’t exist.

As a former longtime school board member and past school board president, that’s on me, and I apologize. The district is an amazing school district. We have top-notch teachers, staff and administrators. Unfortunately, we’ve failed the majority of our middle school students.

It isn’t for lack of trying, and it’s not the teachers, the administrators, nor the students’ fault. Mother Nature, human nature and “blue ribbons” derailed our best intentions. In response to Elizabeth Beeton’s commentary (“Galveston ISD plan to close Austin Middle School is wrong,” The Daily News, Oct. 3), there’s much more to the story.

Yes, Austin was renovated, but as part of numerous resident/parent meetings, the plan for district middle schools starting the 2008-09 school year was for the Austin STEM magnet program to consist of 100 of each fifth- through eighth-graders who wanted a rigorous STEM education, chosen by a rubric and lottery. All other fifth- through sixth-graders were to attend Weis Middle School and all other seventh- through eighth-graders were to attend Central Middle School.

Unfortunately, three weeks into that school year, Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, the district lost 25 percent of its enrollment, school buildings were flooded, and when the dust settled that plan had to be scrapped, leaving us with three fifth- through eighth-grade campuses.

Austin students did fantastic, so more parents applied, and we kept increasing the numbers until the building was full. Two things happened. Those with the best grades attended one school, and those who didn’t get in felt inferior, which they weren’t, just unlucky. Collegiate Middle School (Scott, now Weis) took the overflow. Central’s ratings fell, so we poured money and resources into Central and their ratings improved, but the students who struggled at Central left for Weis, and thus their ratings fell.

As parents complained, we asked both our strategic planning committee and our bond committee their opinions and both groups gave the same answer: equity. Instead, we looked at Austin’s STEM program and its two National Blue Ribbons (2011 and 2017) and said, “We can’t touch that,” and we/I pushed the problem down the road another year.

It’s the end of the road. Weis and Central are significantly underutilized, COVID has affected enrollment even further, and we cannot afford to continue to operate three middle schools, pay for three principals, three administrative teams, and duplicate other services. Our athletic director and coaches will tell you: We don’t have enough players to field competitive teams and, at some grade levels, we don’t have teams.

The solution: All fifth- through sixth-graders at Weis, all seventh- through eighth-graders at Central, repurpose the Austin building. Save the taxpayers money, but more importantly do what’s best for all of our fifth- through eighth-graders across the island.

Do what I should have — take a stand for all children, and remember they already excel as one student body at Ball High School.

Dr. Matthew Hay is a former trustee of the Galveston Independent School District’s school board.

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(4) comments

David Schuler

No matter the spin or justification, closing the highest performing school in an effort to make the other two minimally acceptable is truly stupid. But in reality, you cannot close Central; that will have a good part of the community up in arms. You can't close Weis since a similar reaction will occur in a different part of the community. So closing Austin is simply the least worse political choice, plus it builds support for the upcoming bond election from the two aforementioned groups. Has there been any discussion of repurposing either Central or Weis? Maybe i just missed it.

Michele Hay

Central holds almost 1200 students and Weis holds almost 1000, and both have middle school facilities that are superior to Austin. Austin only holds 750, so keeping the smallest school doesn’t make sense.

Michele Hay

I would like to add that the column was written before last night’s GISD curriculum meeting, and after attending that meeting I would be in favor of what is being called “the Murphy plan“, because Parker principal Liz Murphy proposed it. That would be a fifth grade campus at Austin, in sixth grade campus at Weis and all the seventh and eighth graders at Central. While it doesn’t consolidate down to two schools it allows all children to have an equitable education, and it solves the dispersed extra curricular issues. I didn’t have enough space in the guest column, but the STEM program at Austin isn’t successful because it’s at 1514 Avenue N 1/2, it is successful because we have a grouped together the highest achievers. Moving those children into another building does not mean that there can’t be a rigorous STEM program at each campus. It just means everyone who desires that rigor will have access to it. If the same teachers and the same students are in a different location they don’t suddenly forget how to teach or how to learn. It’s time for all of our middle school children to have a chance to succeed.

Charlotte O'rourke

Thank you, Dr. Hay, for writing and sharing your thoughts. The Murphy plan sounds logical. I would like to see a plan and concentrated effort in achieving an exceptional education for all our children.

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